Catering for the delegate foodie

Q&A with Lee Allen, head chef at Olympia London

How is catering for the UK conference industry changing?

The face of catering for the UK conference industry is changing at a rapid rate, as menus are being influenced by trends from the high street and restaurant scene. We are at the forefront of the industry as delegates’ expectations have increased, as they are now more exposed than ever to a broader range of culinary experiences. From an increase in food related TV shows, to more accessible pop-up restaurants and street food markets as well as global influences as travel has become an intrinsic part of life.


As a chef, what are you doing to cater for this new “foodie” crowd?

High-expectations are not left at the door when it comes to dining at events, conferences and exhibitions, which means that, as caterers, we must use our imagination and skill to make sure today’s sophisticated palates are satisfied. The key to adapting to these evolving client expectations is in providing menus that surprise and delight; something that can be seen in our recent offerings at Olympia London.


Where are the touch points you can add value to conference food offerings?

With the widespread availability of high-quality coffee on most high streets, getting this beverage right, and available all day, is the first step in making a good impression to visitors. Alongside great coffee, guests expect great food; we focus on quintessential English flavours and traditional ingredients and deliver each dish in a slightly different fashion.


Which food trends are you taking inspiration from?

As the new head chef at Olympia London, I’m bringing some fresh, contemporary ideas to the new menus which are due to be released for the summer. The dishes have a strong focus around current food trends, including customer favourites such as street and festival food from countries around the world. When it comes to lunches, this is where we use a bit of flair and reflect the theme of the event.


Do you ever incorporate a bit of food theatre into your dishes?

As guests come to the end of a tiring day, there’s no better way than to leave people on a high with a quirky pick-me-up. At a recent event, we really took the theming on board, the dessert; a bitter chocolate delice with salted caramel popcorn and peanut tuile, was served on a garden trowel – something that was unique and exciting for that event. As food theatre continues to be a growing trend, we want to make sure our ‘foodie’ delegates leave with a positive tale to tell so we consciously innovate and experiment with flavours, presentation and ingredients.


Interview with Lee Allen, head chef, Olympia London, Levy Restaurants UK (the sports, leisure and hospitality business of Compass Group UK & Ireland)

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